VICTORIA – The prospect of piping diluted heavy oil across northern B.C. and loading it in tankers has generated significant genuine protests, as well as bursts of celebrity nonsense, rent-a-stunts and instant online petitions.
Natural gas pipelines and export terminals, on the other hand, are generally accepted by the public. Premier Christy Clark staked her political future on developing liquefied natural gas exports, and pulled off an upset election win that not even Clark expected.
Most of the heat she’s taken on that is focused on her extravagant predictions that LNG will pay off the debt and maybe even get rid of our sales tax.
But as I predicted 18 months ago, there’s a shift in the target of professional protesters to natural gas. A reminder of that awaited me on a morning walk to the B.C. legislature during the last week of the May session.
At the front gate stood a young woman in a bikini top and shorts, her skin smeared with a dark material, presumably to simulate crude oil. She waved to passing traffic, stretching a banner promoting a website for the “Unist’ot’en camp.”
Legislature security intervened to clear the entry walkway before I could ask the protester who was paying her. The fundraising website she was promoting hadn’t been updated since March, but this isn’t the first time this camp has been promoted here.
Chevron’s Burnaby oil refinery was also targeted May 30 by protesters who locked themselves to a gate with bicycle locks and chains. They also cited the Unist’ot’en camp and their aim to stop the Pacific Trails pipeline.
The camp came to my attention last summer, when it was promoted by one of Victoria’s chronic anarchist protesters, a woman who goes by the name Zoe Blunt. Blunt and other southern protesters documented their trip north to support the camp’s stated goal, to stop the Pacific Trails gas pipeline, planned to supply the Chevron-Apache liquefied natural gas terminal near Kitimat.
The camp is on Crown land near Smithers. It was established at the end of a one-lane bridge by two members of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation. While that community’s elected council maintains a respectful relationship with the B.C. government, the splinter group that backs the camp has confrontation in mind.
The Unist’ot’en website is a jumble of demands and claims that alternates between the Pacific Trails gas pipeline and Enbridge’s Northern Gateway proposal. Like the woman at the legislature, if you want it to be against oil, it’s against oil.
A clearer picture of this situation is provided by a relentless blogger named Greg Renouf, who specializes in investigating protesters across Canada. His blog should be required reading for reporters who are presented with slick banners and posturing protesters.
Renouf follows the money as well as the familiar faces who pop up at protest after protest. In April he reported that the increasingly militant Council of Canadians is supporting the Unist’ot’en camp, along with what he describes as “a host of NGOs, unions, militant anarchists and professional protesters.” They include Harsha Walia, who organized violent protests against the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
Meanwhile in the real world, TransCanada Corp. announced last week its subsidiary NovaGas Transmission has signed an agreement with Chevron and Apache for a gas pipeline that will connect to Pacific Trails. It’s one of four gas pipelines TransCanada has in development for what is planned to be the biggest industrial investment in B.C. history.
They can smear it with oil, but gas is the protest industry’s latest target.
Tom Fletcher is legislature reporter and columnist for Black Press. Twitter: @tomfletcherbc